Contents
I Henry IV (Shakespeare's Play)
2 Henry IV (Shakespeare's Play)
Hal and Falstaff (In 1&2 Henry IV)


Study Guide for Henry IV, Part I (=1H4)

 

1) Abbreviations: Abb. should be clear. / indicates a new line; // indicates a new paragraph or a set off passage; *** indicates a long omission.

 

2) Recommended reading: Relevant sections of E.M.W. Tillyard, Shakespeare's History Plays and Robert Ornstein, A Kingdom for a Stage. Useful anthologies: R. J. Dorius' Twentieth Century Interpretations of 1 Henry IV and Discussions of Shakespeare's Histories; Eugene Waith, ed., Shakespeare: The Histories in Twentieth Century Views series. The Norton Critical Edn., ed., S. L. Sanderson, contains an essay on the "Cultural Contexts" of the play, "Extracts from the Major Sources," some critical essays, and an annotated bibliography. Also useful would be M. M. Reese, The Cease of Majesty; J. Palmer, Political Characters of Shakespeare; J. Danby, Shakespeare's Doctrine of Nature. Please note that I was a student of R. Ornstein and tend to agree with him. For an antidote to the Ornstein approach, read Tillyard and Irving Ribner, The English History Play; also see John Dover Wilson, The Fortunes of Falstaff. To understand much of the critical debate on 1 Henry IV you'll have to read 2 Henry IV and A. Bradley's famous lecture, "The Rejection of Falstaff"--collected in Oxford Lectures on Poetry (Macmillan, l909) and in Dorius' Discussions. For misc. comments on Falstaff see C.L. Barber, Shakespeare's Festive Comedy and Wylie Sypher, "The Meaning of Comedy" in his Comedy.

 

3) From D. A. Traversi, An Approach to Shakespeare, 3rd edn., vol I:

Falstaff, as the Prince brings out in his elaborate reply, lives by repudiating time. . . . [T]he very fact that he ignores its [time's] call to the exercise of responsible choice implies that he will himself have to be repudiated before the Prince can take up a vocation in which he will be at once conscious of time and, in some measure, its victim. [208]

From the first he [Hal] is presented in ultimate detachment from Falstaff.

There is in his future development, no real conversion, because the moral estimate of his temporary companion is from the beginning firmly present in his mind. . . . He [Falstaff] bears about him elements of the buffoon, the Vice of the medieval stage, and incarnates the temptations against morality and duty which the young king-in-the-making will be required to abjure. . . . [Falstaff] increasingly stands out from the political action in which he moves [in 1 Henry IV], serves as a connecting link between two contrasted worlds, the tavern world of comic incident in which he is at home and the world of court rhetoric and political decision to which he also has access. So situated in two worlds and confined entirely to neither, his is a voice that lies outside the prevailing political spirit of the play, that draws its cogency--though of a limited kind, condemned even as it is expressed for being partial, for the sin of mistaking the part for the whole--from the author's own insight expressing itself in a flow of comic energy. From this standpoint, and without ignoring the other, the very real darker side of the picture, we may say that Falstaff represents certain valid aspects of the humanity which it seems that the public man must necessarily exclude. [209-2l0]

[Hal's soliloquy at the end of l.2] "touches on a theme always close to his father's heart and stressed throughout as a constant feature of the family character: the tendency to live for public effect, to grade behavior to the reaction that it is desired to produce in the world." [2l0]

The Prince, from his first appearance, has substantially made his choice; he looks forward to a reformation which, precisely because it has never really been a question, is partly moved by a political calculation which reflects his father's character. . . . The whole process of "reformation," as Hal describes it in these initial reflections [l.2.l83 f.], has a surface quality, glitters with a kind of metallic speciousness over previous faults "like bright metal on a sullen ground"; and its purpose is to "show more goodly" and "attract more eyes." The "conversion," thus partially transformed from an edifying example to a deliberate instrument of policy, enters into the permanent characteristics of the House of Lancaster . . . behind Shakespeare's acceptance of a traditional story [Hal as the "Cinderella Prince"] lies the sense, which grows as the action develops, that success in politics implies some measure of moral loss, the sacrifice of more immediately attractive qualities in the distinctively personal order. [2ll]

[On the Percies, as we see them in l.3:] Against this background [of impending conflict between Percies and Lancasters] and after the demonstration, just witnessed, of Hal's political detachment, yet another contrast--that between himself and Hotspur--begins to take shape. Hotspur's first speech, describing the courtier who brought the king's request for his prisoners after Holmedon, is finely conceived in the comic spirit; this is the man of action at his best, still sure of the validity of his values, direct, incisive, impatient of artifice and intrigue. What takes place after the king's angry departure, however, shows the subjection of this impulsive warrior to the labyrinth of politic behavior. . . . Hotspur's reaction to the prospect of hazard introduces for the first time the abstract "honour" which represents at once the weakness and the strength of his position: [quotes in part l.3.194-208]. . . . "Honour," thus followed, is in the process of converting itself for Hotspur into an emotional stimulus which, as it is mentioned, rouses an infallible response in high-sounding rhetoric. . . . Before the scene has ended Worcester, with all the politician's contempt for the simple values of the man of war, has involved his nephew [Hotspur] in a web of intrigue. (2l3)*** Hotspur, out of his depth, salutes his uncle's contrivance as "a noble plot," whilst Worcester more accurately reveals its foundations in guilt and expediency: [quotes l.3.280-85]. Fear, in this world, breeds fear, and produces the very rebellion which fear itself, working through a conscience of guilt, would desire to avoid. (2l4)

[Robbery at Gadshill:] The essence of the adventure (II. ii) lies in the contrast between Falstaff's participation, shameless, corrupt, and ridiculous by turn, and the Prince's blend of diversion and detachment. Falstaff appears more than ever the incarnation of "misrule," distinguished--always within his dedication to dissolution--by the capacity to confer upon his own monstrosity an unexpected, paradoxical normality. His triumphs, such as they are, depend on the evasion of facts, whereas the superiority of the Prince rests on the dispassionate observation of them. The ability to detach himself from his surroundings is at once Hal's virtue and in some sense his human limitation. [2l5)]

[The scene at Eastcheap, after the robbery (2.4):] Falstaff's account of the robbery, and his subsequent exposure, bring into the play what are in effect two worlds, two contrasted attitudes to life. His comic imagination plays upon the incident, transforming it at will and making of it a satire of heroic warfare. . . . until he is curbed by the imposition of fact, Falstaff represents life, the refusal to be bound by moral categories which, necessary in themselves, are so often limited, even selfish, in their particular application. . . . To discuss whether Falstaff is or is not a coward [a topic of sharp critical debate] is finally irrelevant, because the character is not, at these moments, conceived in terms of realistic motive at all; it is rather that the categories of cowardice and valor have become, while he speaks, momentarily irrelevant. So much is this so that social necessity, which demands the acceptance of responsibility, the subjection of individual impulse to the general good, leads finally to his elimination [in 2 Henry IV--and Henry V], but will run the risk in eliminating him of killing the vitality it also needs. . . .

For this reason, the Prince is there to correct the balance. As Falstaff's imagination moves away from the original sordidness of the Gadshill incident, so does Hal's dry precision take pleasure in exposing the facts of the case; and the exposure . . . leads to that insistence upon sweat and grossness . . . which is at once the true reverse of Falstaff's exuberant fleshliness and a sign of the compensating vulgarity which, in these comic scenes, so persistently shadows the speaker's cold-blooded, efficient habits of thought. [On one side we have Falstaff, pictured by Hal as a coward and "huge hill of flesh,"] . . . on the side of Hal, as pictured by his disreputable associate, we have "you starveling, you elf-skin, you dried neat's tongue, you bull's pizzle, you stockfish," and the rest. Both are exaggerations, exaggerations respectively of warm corruption and cold efficiency. [2l6-2l7]

. . . the circumstances which demand Falstaff's banishment also involve a loss which no necessity, political or moral, can make altogether irrelevant. For Falstaff, as he presents himself for this particular purpose (and his imagination can compass many presentations for many, even contradictory, ends) is //A goodly portly man, i' faith, and a corpulent; of a cheerful look, a pleasing eye, and a most noble carriage. (II. iv) // . . . we can neither accept Falstaff as representing a sufficient view of life nor follow the Prince in his dismissal of him. (2l9)

[On Hal's calculations and] Falstaff's final appeal against banishment: "banish plump Jack, and banish all the world." Banish Falstaff, in other words, and banish everything that cannot be reduced to an instrument of policy in the quest for a success that is, in its absence haunted by a sense of emptiness. [221]

[On 3.1, the scene in the rebel camp with the argument over the map:] If Glendower is a mixture of superstition, vanity, and incompetence whose self- regard prompts him to see insults at every turn, Hotspur, the admired soul of "honour," is not only ready to carve his own country into the spoils of war but to quarrel over the division; and when at last he has forced Glendower to agree to his proposal, he admits in effect that his obstinacy has been the product of ill-tempered spleen; . . . the pursuit of his feud with Glendower to a point at which it places the common interest in jeopardy . . . [reveals] an unstable and immature outlook. [222]

[On 3.2, the scene between Hal and Bolingbroke:] . . . the sense of guilt which burdens the speech [ll.4 f.] is presented in relation to an overmastering sense of expediency. What Henry condemns in his son is finally a public, a political blemish. *** As Henry's long reflections develop we suspect . . . that the only true moral criterion for this king has been, from the beginning, political effectiveness. . . . The use of modesty to arrive at a position of pride, of concealment to attract universal attention, is deeply implanted in this essentially, exclusively public personalty. . . . [Therefore] it is not surprising that his son should have learned, when necessary, to separate feeling from the necessities of political behavior and that filial tenderness, real as it is in him in his moments of deeper sincerity, should exist side by side with a readiness to subject personal considerations to public achievement." . . . [On Hal's promise to return to duty and "wear a garment all of blood: Traversi notes] the emphasis on "I," a cold determination which the speech . . . shows and which is, at least in part, a reaction against the galling superiority attributed to his rival [Hotspur]: for behind the phrase "your unthought-of Harry" bitter resentment exists side by side with filial concern. It is the birth of a rigid war machine as well as a prince finding his true nature that is being evoked here. [225]

[On Worcester:] Persuasiveness and "reason," born of cunning and experience are his gods; but for all this he is a rebel, and as such driven to exclude the operations of true reason as fatal to his own projects. . . . The fruits of rebellion are, like its origins, disunity and chaos; this truth illustrates a fatality of which Worcester is dimly aware, which he strives to exclude, but which is seen at this moment [4.1] in the process of overtaking the enterprise to which greed and the desire for power originally committed him." [229] *** Worcester . . . is driven first to shut out reason and then to conceal the fact that peace has been offered. His reasons amount to a denial of the rebel's ability to choose reasonably. . . . Worcester's distrust, like Henry's tragedy, has its origins in the past. It owes its existence to the initial crime by which the seeds of disorder and suspicion were sown to work themselves out on either side in conflict. Both parties in this action are as much victims of "fortune" as conscious agents of their respective purposes. Both evoke "honour" and other lofty sanctions to confer dignity upon their cause; but, though their culpability can never be equal, it remains true that crime born on either side of self-interest is bearing fruit in unnecessary bloodshed. [23l]

 

 

4) One of the seminal works on the Histories is John Dover Wilson's The Fortunes of Falstaff (l943--rpt. l964 by Cambridge U. Press). Immediately below I summarize Irving Ribner's summary of Wilson's major points (notes, Shakespeare Institute, Summer l969). Below that I excerpt some comments by Wilson himself (from TCV, Shakespeare: The Histories).

1 and 2 Henry IV basically one play on the theme of the education of the ideal king (i.e., Henry V). This theme of education comes from the Morality Play tradition (the education--and reformation--of the Prodigal Son) and is thematically appropriate in Henry IV: neither Richard II nor Bolingbroke are adequate in Richard II, and Hal becomes "the mirror of all Christian kings" in Henry V. (Ribner understands "mirror" as "ideal"; I pointed out to him--and perhaps half convinced him--that "mirror" cannot take so unambiguous a meaning.) In 1 Henry IV we see Hal's education in the military virtues that will lead to his great victory at Agincourt (in Henry V). In 2 Henry IV we see Hal's education in the civil (civic?) virtues that will yield a good, just king. Hal is the Aristotelian mean between Hotspur and Falstaff: Hal demonstrates the true courage and magnaminity necessary for the ideal soldier- king. (Note stage emblem of Hal between the corpse of Hotspur and the "corpse" of Falstaff) The killing of Hotspur would give the killer the reputation of the greatest soldier in England. Hal magnanimously gives the glory to Falstaff and takes for himself only the reality: his knowledge that he killed Hotspur. Hal symbolically rejects Falstaff at the end of 1 Henry IV. In 2 Henry IV Hal learns Justice. Here Hal associates himself with the Lord Chief Justice, thereby rejecting both the Falstaffian rejection of Law, Justice, and Honor and the sort of "justice" shown by John of Lancaster: a "justice" without honor (and without mercy). Ribner (and most other critics of the play) stresses the darkening of Falstaff's character in 2 Henry IV. Clearly it is Falstaff vs. the Chief Justice--and the Chief Justice should win.

 

WILSON: "Falstaff may be the most conspicuous, he is certainly the most fascinating, character in Henry IV, but all critics are agreed, I believe, that the technical center of the play is not the fat knight but the lean prince. Hal links the low life with the high life, the scenes at Eastcheap [the tavern] with those at Westminster [the court], the tavern with the battlefield; his doings provide most of the material for both Parts, and with him too lies the future, since he is to become Henry V, the ideal king, in the play that bears his name; finally, the mainspring of the dramatic action is . . . the choice he is called upon to make between Vanity and Government, taking the latter in its accepted Tudor meaning, which includes Chivalry or prowess in the field, the theme of Part I, and Justice, which is the theme of Part II. Shakespeare, moreover, breathes life into these abstractions by embodying them, or aspects of them, in prominent characters, who stand, as it were, about the Prince, like attendant spirits. Falstaff typifying Vanity in every sense of the word [including its original meaning: emptiness, worthlessness], Hotspur Chivalry, of the old anarchic kind, and the Lord Chief Justice the Rule of Law or the New [Tudor and Renaissance] ideal of service to the state." [l34]

Wilson briefly tells how the medieval English drama dealt with one theme and one only: human salvation. This theme could be handled in either miracle plays (human history from the Creation, through the Incarnation and Atonement and on to the Last Days) or allegorical morality plays (the struggle between the virtues and vices for the soul of Everyman). "With the advent of humanism and the early Tudor court, morality plays became tedious and gave place to lighter and much shorter moral interludes dealing, not with human life as a whole, but with youth and its besetting sins" [l34]. Wilson vastly oversimplifies this question. Morality Plays remained popular until quite late, and many of the early interludes were far from moral; one of the most famous ones, in fact, is a long dirty joke, translated out of the French. In terms of the Morality scheme, Falstaff=Riot.

Wilson sees Falstaff not only as Riot but also in the tradition of the tempters of the Prodigal (=wasteful) Son and the Clever Slave and parasites of Roman comedy [l35].

"Nor was Shakespeare the first to see Hal as the prodigal. The legend of Harry of Monmouth began to grow soon after his death in l422; and practically all the chroniclers, even those writing in the fifteenth century, agree on his wildness in youth and on the sudden change that came upon him at his accession to the throne. The essence of Shakespeare's plot is, indeed, already to be found in the following passage about King Henry V taken from Fabyan's Chronicle of l5l6: *** There appears to be no historical basis for any of this . . . *** //Yet when all is said, the main truth seem to be that the fifteenth and early sixteen centuries, the age of allegory in poetry and morality in drama, needed a Prodigal Prince, whose miraculous conversion might be held up as an example by those concerned (as what contemporary political writer was not?) with the education of young noblemen and princes. And could any more alluring fruits of repentance be offered such pupils than the prowess and statesmanship of Henry V, the hero of Agincourt, the mirror of English kingship for a hundred years? In his miracle play, Richard II, Shakespeare had celebrated the traditional royal martyr; in his morality play, Henry IV, he does the like with the traditional royal prodigal.

He made the myth his own, much as musicians adopt and absorb a folktune as the theme for a symphony. . . . Shakespeare plays no tricks with his public. He did not, like Euripidies, dramatize the stories of his race and religion in order to subvert the traditional ideals those stories were first framed to set forth. Prince Hal is the prodigal, and his repentance is not only to be taken seriously, it is to be admired and "commended" [l37-l38].

 

5) The Prodigal Son story (Luke 15.11-31, Geneva Version, modernized spelling and punctuation): A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, "Father, give me the portion of the goods that falleth to me." So he divided unto them his substance. So not long after, when the younger son had gathered all together, he took his journey into a far country, and there he wasted his goods with riotous living. Now when he had spent all, there arose a great dearth throughout the land, and he began to be in necessity. Then he went and clave to a citizen of that country, and he sent him to his farm to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine ate; but no man gave them [to] him. Then he came to himself and said, "How many hired servants at my father's have bread enough, and I die for hunger? I will rise and go to my father and say unto him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son; make me as one of thy hired servants." So he arose and came to his father, and when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said unto him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee and am no more worthy to be called thy son."

Then the father said to his servants, "Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet, and bring the fat calf and kill him, and let us eat and be merry." Now the elder brother was in the field, and when he came and drew near to the house he heard melody and dancing and called one of his servants and asked what those things meant. And he said unto him, "Thy brother is come, and thy father hath killed the fatted calf because he hath received him safe and sound." Then was he angry and would not go in; therefore came his father out and entreated him. But he answered and said to his father, "Lo, these many years have I done thee service, neither brake I at any time thy commandment, and yet thou never gavest me a kid that I might make merry with my friends. But when this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy goods with harlots, thou hast for his sake killed the fat calf." And he said unto him, "Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was mete that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead and is alive again; and he was lost, but he is found."

 

6) COMMENTS AND QUESTIONS:

 

(l) Some place along the line consider the question "What is a history play?" Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, for example, is far more faithful to history than 1 Henry IV; King Lear deals with early British history, and Macbeth deals with Scottish history--yet we call these plays tragedies. 1 Henry IV, of course is highly comic, but Francis Meres, one of Shakespeare's contemporaries, listed Shakespeare's tragedies as Richard II, Richard III, Henry IV, King John, Titus Andronicus, and Romeo and Juliet. (Palladis Tamia, l598; note that he seems to consider Henry IV one play; also note that Meres wasn"t very bright).

 

(2) Do 1 & 2 Henry IV and Henry V constitute a "Henriad," an epic of Henry V, showing his education, struggles, and final apotheosis as the victor of Agincourt and "the mirror of all Christian kings"? Is Henry IV a two-part modern morality play, showing the education and reformation of the Prodigal Prince? If it is about the education of Hal, who are his teachers? (Who are the father figures? Who does Hal adopt as his father at various points in Tet-2?) Does Hotspur have anything to teach Hal? Does Falstaff have anything to teach Hal? Can Hal learn from Poins and Francis and the riffraff of Eastcheap?

 

(3) Consider carefully the initial confrontations between Henry IV and the Percies. What is the truth here? Are the Percies defying Bolingbroke? Is Bolingbroke goading them into rebellion? Note that in Richard II Shakespeare makes ambiguous a point that was clear in his sources: just when Bolingbroke decided to return to England. Is Shakespeare following a similar course here, intentionally withholding from us the data necessary to weigh the truth on each side? If Shakespeare is doing this with the Percy/Lancastrian fight, does it fit into the question of truth raised in the "fights" between Hal and Falstaff? Is there a theme of "What is Truth?" in 1 Henry IV?

 

(4) What are the sources of disorder in Henry IV's kingdom? If Falstaff is really personified Disorder, how is it that he fights on the side of the loyalists? To what extent is the cautious, politic, prudent, orderly Uncle Worcester the cause of disorder in Henry IV's England?

 

(5) Just what does Hotspur represent (if anything)? If he stands for Chivalry, does he also stand for the old bastard feudalism that fought for crowns? Does he stand for the still older ("pure") feudalism that fought to destroy all central authority and keep power in the hands of local nobles? (Modern historians talk of "classic" feudalism and "bastard" feudalism. Under "classic" feudalism the nobles usually fought to weaken the power of the king. Under bastard feudalism the nobles didn't want to destroy the system, but various factions of nobles would try to take over the royal system. The Wars of the Roses, under Henry VI for the most part, were the last gasps of bastard feudalism in England. Note that Shakespeare wouldn't use these terms. In Tet-1, however, he did show the horrors of faction.)

 

(6) Are the Lancastrians loveable? Are they honest? Are Hotspur and/or Falstaff honest and/or loveable? Does Henry IV really want to go on that crusade? Is Henry IV just the vile politician that Hotspur sees him? Is Hal just a chip off the Lancastrian iceberg--an emotionless politician? Is Hal a calculator like his father? Is Hal an opportunist, like his father? Is Hal corrupted by Falstaff--or should we believe Falstaff when he says that Hal has corrupted him? (Who is it that first suggests committing robbery?) If Bolingbroke became king by stealing the crown would the "true prince"--his legitimate heir--also be a false thief? (Note all the possible meanings of "true prince" and "false thief." According to Machiavelli a "true prince" would often be false to his word. English grammar allows "false thief" to mean "a real thief--false to everyone" and "not a real thief--someone just playing at being a thief.")

 

(7) What is the significance of Hal's "I know you all" soliloquy (l.2.183f.)? Does Hal need to explain why he's in the tavern? Did an Elizabethan audience need to be assured that the prodigal son of Henry IV would become the great king Henry V? (Are we supposed to recall this soliloquy when Hal rejects Falstaff? The opening line of the rejection itself is "I know thee not, old man" [2 Henry IV 5.5.47].)

 

(8) Note that Shakespeare does not intentionally mislead us in a soliloquy; in some sense what the character tells us is true. However, if a character whom we know to possess the set of qualities A tells us that he's "really" B, we shouldn"t be upset. Shakespeare has just told us that the character is really "A prime": the sort of A who will tell us (and in part believe) that he is "really" B.

 

(9) Look for repeated words and phrases in 1 Henry IV. Some possibly significant ones follow (quotation marks omitted): sun, time, hang, great, proud, policy, ladder, honor, wise, fool, coward, manhood, reason, true prince, false thief, true men, instinct, (winners/losers)--and, of course, related words.

 

(l0) Is rebellion inevitable under a usurper? Will the Percies really "pluck the flower safety" out of "the nettle, danger" by rebelling?

 

(ll) What is the significance of Hal's game with Francis? If it would be a clear symbol of something or other to the Elizabethans, how is it that Poins asks "what's the issue [outcome]?"? (In 2 Henry IV Hal mocks Poins for being typical: " . . . thou art a blessed fellow to think as every man thinks. Never a man's thought in the world keeps the roadway better than thine" [2.2.5l-54]. If a typical Elizabethan would've understood the game with Francis, Poins would've understood.) To what extent is Hal just playing with Falstaff? Is there any essential difference between Hal's games with Falstaff and those with Francis? (It may have something to do with Francis's inability to use English--in Hal's view--as opposed to Fal's virtuoso's command of language.)

 

(l2) To some extent Hostpur is the simple soldier, the plain, blunt Englishman, opposed to courtly niceties. Still, does this exhaust his character? Does Hotspur speak rather poetically--even when he's condemning poetry? Do Hotspur and his wife have a good relationship? Is Hotspur loyal to his family?

 

(l3) Is Hot's family loyal to him? Does Uncle Worcester tell him the truth about the King's peace offer? Why doesn"t Father Northumberland show up at Shrewsbury? (See Induction to 2 Henry IVfor Northumberland's being "crafty- sick.") Still, does Hotspur fit into the family fairly well? Consider this as a paraphrase of Hotspur's speech in l.3.l55 f.: We were hatchet men for Bolingbroke and destroyed poor Richard--and now we aren"t getting a fair cut. Or, We were the hangmen for Richard, but Bolingbroke got Richard's clothes. (The executioner got the victim's clothes as partial payment for his services.) Anyway, it's quite possible that Bolingbroke is far from being the only "vile politician" around.

 

(l4) Note very carefully Hal and Falstaff playing at being king (2.4.370 f.). How does Falstaff's "Henry IV" know that Hal is the "true prince" (i.e., his legitimate son)? How does Falstaff's "Hal" defend Falstaff (2.4.444 f.). N.B. for rejection of Falstaff: "Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world! / PRINCE: I do, I will." Note that Falstaff says that he"ll play Henry IV "in King Cambyses" vein"--i.e., in the manner of the bombastic tyrant in an old "hybrid" morality. Actually Falstaff's parody is of Euphuism: A highly artificial prose style popular in the late '70s and early '80s (John Lyly, Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit [l578] and Euphues and His England, a sequel, [ca. l580]). "Developing with tedious if ingenious intensity the stylistic devices of precariously balanced sentence structure and rhetorical figuration, Lyly used the tricks of antithesis, alliteration, repetition, exampla [=long examples], sententiae [=proverb-like sentences], and similia [=similes] with feindish ingenuity" (Rollins and Baker, The Renaissance in England.) Lyly also used allusions to "unnatural natural history": tall tales about animal behavior and the strange qualities of plants and minerals.

 

(l5) Note Henry IV's speech to Hal on his public relations campaign for the kingdom (3.2.39 f.). Does this fit in with the Percies' version of how Henry came to the throne? Does such a sophisticated use of PR fit in with a view of Bolingbroke as a vile politician? Could such a sophisticated politician be so wrong about his son as Bolingbroke seems to be about Hal? Does Bolingbroke understand Hal well enough to manipulate him? Is Hal so brilliant a political actor that he can fool even his own father?

 

(l6) Note Falstaff's money deals in the play. Is he expensive to have as a "friend"? Is he a responsible military recruiter? Is he a responsible commander? (Is he a coward, a true descendant of the Miles Gloriosus, the Braggart Soldier?) Does Falstaff show any pity for his troops? Is Falstaff right about "honour"? Are we supposed to see brave, loyal--and dead--Sir Walter Blunt as simply a fool?

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Study Guide for 2 Henry IV (=2H4)

l) Some useful works on 2 Henry IV:

E.M.W. Tillyard, Shakespeare's History Plays, section II.4.3 for both parts of Henry IV; Robert Ornstein, A Kingdom for a Stage. Ch. 7; D. A. Traversi, An Approach to Shakespeare, Vol. I, 237-62. For a good discussion of Hal's interview with the dying Henry IV, see H.M. Richmond, Shakespeare's Political Plays (NY: Random House, 1967), Part III, section 3; seminal for the Rejection of Falstaff: A.C. Bradley, "The Rejection of Falstaff" in Oxford Lectures on Poetry (1909; rpt London: Macmillan, 1959)--anthologized in several places; for an answer to Bradley and a conservative reading of Henry IV (seen as one 10-act play, in 2 parts), see J. Dover Wilson, The Fortunes of Falstaff (1943; rpt. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1964); for several useful essays (including Bradley's), see R.J. Dorius, Discussions of Shakespeare's Histories (Boston: Heath, 1964--in the Discussions of Literature series); the most immediately relevant anthology is probably D.P. Young, Twentieth-Century Interpretations of Henry IV (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1968).

 

2) Any criticism of Henry IV must begin with figuring out just what Henry IV is. Tillyard sees it as just part of a great, eight-play cycle: Henry IV is complete enough in itself, of course, but not really understandable outside of the full story from the deposition of Richard II to the ascension of Henry Tudor (at the end of Richard III). J. D. Wilson argues that Henry IV is a unit: one play in two parts. Wilson's opponents point out that it is highly unlikely that Shakespeare or his company every presented Henry IV as any sort of unit. Even if they eventually ran each play in the Second Tetralogy on succeeding days (which they could do as a repertory company), there was no way they could limit attendance at one performance only to people who had or would see the other. And, for sure, before 2 Henry IV was written, people saw 1 Henry IV as a complete unit in itself. This sort of objection to Wilson's theory is a bit unfair, though: his theory must be judged primarily on its heuristic value: whether or not it's useful for criticism. If you're a "conservative" and see Falstaff as Disorder incarnate, then it's quite useful to see 1&2 Henry IV as a single unit: the Falstaff of 2 Henry IV eminently deserves to be rejected, and (as Bradley pointed out long ago), it is only knowing the Falstaff of 1 Henry IV that gives us problems with the Rejection in 2 Henry IV. J. Dover Wilson et al., of course, work in the opposite direction: they say that it's knowing the dirty old Falstaff of 2 Henry IV that's supposed to condition our response to Falstaff (and Prince Hal's attitude toward Falstaff) in 1 Henry IV.

 

3) Note the image of disease and age throughout 2 Henry IV. The world of the play seems to be much older and more evil than the world of 1 Henry IV. Falstaff certainly seems to be older, more wicked, and less funny. Northumberland's absence at Shrewsbury is now explained: he was "crafty-sick." A man dies as a result of a fight at the tavern. We see Falstaff abusing the King's press (=power to conscript men into the army). And summing all up is the politic victory of Prince John of Lancaster at Gaultree: not a gallant, chivalric victory like Shrewsbury, but a trick on enemies less spiried, and even less admirable, than the Percies. (Note, though, that the rebellion of the Archbishop is more responsibly run, more businesslike, than that of Hotspur. We can take much more seriously the Archbishop's claim that there are grievances against Henry IV. Still, in the make-believe world of the theater, we tend to sympathize with a dangerous romantic like Hotspur more than with the sober Churchman.)

 

4) Brute-force Criticism: Comments on Some Scenes in 2 Henry IV

1.1

Note Northumberland's wish for a return to chaos in lines 155 f.; such a wish will make us think ill of the rebels (guilt by association). Still, do the rebels seem very anarchic (or even just democratic) when we see them? Consider Morton's lines on how the Archbishop of York "Turns insurrection to religion." Is Shakespeare trying to disparage the rebels in two contradictory (?) ways: making them both "politic" schemers and willers of political chaos? (They may be both: the major source of disorder in 1 Henry IV was Hotspur's politic and cautious uncle, Worcester.)

 

1.2

.1-10: Falstaff's opening lines here are on disease and wit. Is Falstaff's wit diseased? Is his wit inappropriate in his old, sick body? Is his wit necessary in an old, diseased world?

.54-213: The immediate opposition between Falstaff and the Lord Chief Justice may be significant. Wilson (and Irving Ribner after him) argued that the action of 1 Henry IV is Hal's learning to be the "golden mean" between Hotspur and his excess of "honor" and Falstaff and his deficit of honor. In 2 Henry IV (according to Ribner-out-of Wilson), the major action is Hal's learning the civic virtues (primarily justice) and going over just about completely to the side of the Lord Chief Justice, and, necessarily, rejecting Falstaff. We can argue this question. What cannot be argued is the simple fact that Falstaff, the Lord Chief Justice, and Henry IV all serve as father-figures to Hal and teachers, and that each has something to teach Prince Hal. (Historical Note: "The Education of the Christian Prince" was a standard theme in Renaissance literature.)

 

1.3

.87-102: Note the comments on the sickness of the times and the fickleness of the people. It may be slightly ironic that this (generally correct) analysis comes from a rebel, who must depend upon bad times and the fickleness of the people.

 

2.1: It's probably significant that Shakespeare juxtaposes the rebels up in arms and Falstaff in the tavern. Possibly the juxtaposition gets over the idea of public vs. private disorder.

 

2.2: Note Hal's contempt for Poins (and the other low characters?). Question: If Hal thinks so little of Poins and the rest, why would he care what they might think if he were to weep for his father? (Note also Hal's contempt for the commonness of Poin's mind: ". . . thou art a blessed fellow to think as every man thinks." Recall Hal's line here every time a critic tries to tell you that Shakespeare was quite content to merely repeat the orthodoxies of his age.)

 

2.4: This is an important scene; it's the only time we see Falstaff and Hal together, before the Rejection.

Pistol: He'll become important in Henry V, so keep an eye on him. He's something of a "humour" character: a modernization (ca. 1600) of an old theatrical type by applying a veneer of Renaissance psychology. The humour joke here is that Pistol is pretending to be The Choleric Man (=a man with too much of the hot humour, choler). Actually, Pistol's geneology is more ancient than humoural psychology: he's a descendant of the old Braggart Soldier (Latin, Miles Gloriosus). If you have difficulty seeing why Pistol is funny, look for possible obscenities in his speech, plus messed up mythology and unintentional parodies of famous lines from the heroic plays of Christopher Marlowe--lines Pistol tries to pass off as his own.

.213-220: Like an aging beach boy (or Marlowe's Passionate Shepherd), Falstaff is tempted to flatter himself with the illusion of eternal youth (being the Eternal Boy). The world is in the habit of crushing such illusions. In 1 Henry IV, Falstaff was capable of mocking his age. Is he still capable of such comedy in 2 Henry IV? If he succumbs to the temptation of living in his illusions, is he setting himself up for destruction. (Note Henry V's opening line in his Rejection of Falstaff.)

.265-342: Just how friendly are Hal and Falstaff in their exchanges in this scene?

 

3.1

.1-31: Marlowe's Tamburlaine had asked (rhetorically), "Is it not passing brave to be a king, / And ride in triumph through Persepolis?" And one of Tamburlaine's lieutenants responded that "A god is not so glorious as a king." More immediately relevant, Henry Bolingbroke had wanted a crown enough to usurp one. As King Henry IV, he's learned a bit since then: "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown"--at least a usurped crown. Is a bad conscience the reason that Henry IV doesn't sleep well? Or is he just worried about the rebels, and about Hal?

.56-64: Note the theme of political mutability.

.67-93: Does Henry IV ever admit that he stole the crown? Not by some public confession, of course, but even to himself or to Hal: does this man ever call his deed by its true name of "theft" or "usurpation"? (Has Henry IV come to believe his own propaganda about how and why he became king? Does he ever really recognize his own motivations?

Does Warwich believe in some sort of Providential pattern which men, inspired, may glimpse? Does he believe (instead?) in just a political process, out of which we can infer some rules and use them to make good guesses? Might one of these rules be, "Thieves will fall out"--i.e., that thieves won't keep faith and will try to rob each other after they've finished robbing the true men? (I allude here to the robbery--and some dialog about robbing--in 1 Henry IV.)

.107-8: Does Henry IV really want to go on that Crusade? (Don't be overly cynical here. Henry IV is a complex man, capable of desiring atonement without ever admitting that he's sinned. As a competent politician, of course, he'd be capable of getting political mileage out of a Crusade--no matter how pure his initial [or major] motivation for crusading might be.)

 

3.2

.1-78: Note the themes of age and death and money and country life pretty much just going on--only slightly disturbed by the doings of the politicians in London and York.

.78-280: We see Falstaff abusing the King's press here. It's funny, but a little upsetting. Falstaff is literally dealing in a kind of blood money. Note that Falstaff oxymoronically compares Feeble to a "wrathful dove" and "magnanimous mouse." Shakespeare, though, adds a paradox: Feeble is the only real partiot in the bunch.

.281-end: Shallow lies about his "wild" youth. I'm not sure what that means, but it's probably important for how we judge Hal's program of conspicuous reformation. (Certainly Shallow's misremembering his youth points out that Elizabethan popular culture had a [minimally] double standard for the behavior of young men: an official code of youthly virtue and a second code that expected a fair amount of wild oat sowing. Note well for this issue the New Testament story of the Prodigal Son [Luke 15.11-32].)

Minor point: Both the Pelican and Riverside editors play coy with "a philosopher's two stones." It's a joke, referring to the "Philosophers' Stone" and the elixir of life plus a pun on "stones"="testicles."

Major point: "If a young dace be a bait for the old pike, I see no reason in the law of nature but I may snap at him": If this is Falstaff's "philosophy," then it's a dangerous one, both for those around Falstaff and for Falstaff. It's just a fancier version of "Big fish eat little fish"--the "law of the jungle" misread and misapplied to human affairs. It also should be a warning to Falstaff; "the old pike" may just find himself hooked. (Note that Satan was sometimes pictured as a great serpent "caught" with the "hook" of Christ; an "old, white-bearded Satan" like Falstaff should be careful about figures of speech based on fishing.)

Falstaff ends his soliloquy (monolog to audience?) with "Let time shape, and there an end." Viola, the heroine of Twelfth Night, says in a complex situation, "O time, thou must untangle this, not I; / It is too hard a knot for me t'untie" (II.2.39-40); and we're supposed to approve of her flexibility. Is Falstaff really putting himself into the "hands" of time? Is he an opportunist, waiting for time to shape some opportunities for him? (If he's a rather cynical opportunist, he wouldn't be the only one in Shakespeare's History plays.)

4.1

General Comment: Note the juxtaposition of this scene with Falstaff's soliloquy at the end of 3.2. Perhaps we see here the political application of "Big fish"--or clever ones--"eat little fish."

.41-61: Note the repeated words in the speeches of the Archbishop and Westmoreland. Westmoreland harps on "peace"; the Archbishop talks of disease. Ornstein reminds us that "much of the sickness of the times is as feigned as Bullcalf's cold or as psychosomatic as Northumberland's 'crafty-sickness' [sic]" (Kingdom, p. 157). Still, we do have a sick King and something of a political Wasteland in 2 Henry IV; the question is how to cure it. "It is not clear . . . whether the soil of England must be bled because it is overfertile (too fat with discord) or whether it must be manured because it is too thin and cold--too depleted of hope and idealism. If Falstaff were still the Falstaff of Part I, there would be no doubt that his fatness is to be preferred to John's thinness, his indulgence to Lancaster's rigor. But no longer is fatness identified with expansive humor and festive cheer. Now it has a grosser corpulent reality; now it is identified with diseases of oversurfeited appetite which require purging" (Kingdom, p 160).

Question: What do figures of agriculture and medicine mean when applied to the English Garden and the English Body Politic (respectively)? It may be a lot easier to talk about "pruning" and getting rid of "weeds" than to admit that sometimes a king has to kill or ruin his enemies. It may be easier to talk about "letting blood" in the Body Politic than to say you're going to kill people in a rebellion. (For the classic discussion on euphemism in political discourse, see George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language," anthologized in The Norton Reader and elsewhere; copies--made before the new copyright law went into effect--available locally.)

.67-139: We get some exposition here of the background of the current English troubles. We do not get any explanation of just why the rebels are rebelling: we don't get a list of their grievances. As in 1 Henry IV, Shakespeare has suppressed all detailed information of just who has wronged whom. Is the threatrical effect of this suppression our feeling that somehow the deposition of Richard II is leading to rebellions against Henry IV? Should we follow Westmoreland's advice and say "it is the time, / And not the king, that doth . . . injuries" to the rebels? (If Westmoreland is right, what are the "necessities" that make the times act this way? And how does "time" do the injuries? Don't people harm people in politics?)

.140-219: Note the rebels' reasons for thinking Henry IV might really intend them mercy. Note the images of weeding and whipping (with rods). Also of interest is Hastings' picture of Henry IV as "a fangless lion." Machiavelli advises the prince to be both a lion and a fox. Maybe Henry IV can't use force here--and so ordered Prince John to use fraud. Or, perhaps Henry IV just gave Prince John a "full commission" to handle the rebellion as John thinks best--and John just does what comes naturally to him.

 

4.2

General Comment: The scene division here seems odd. In some ways, we just have a long scene, preceded by Falstaff's sololiquy in III.2 and ending with his soliloquy near the end of this scene.

.1-71: Note Lancaster's argument for the divine authority of kings. Note also his promise to the rebels and his offer to "drink together friendly and embrace." Prince John is a real chip off the old Lancastrian iceberg: he'll use all the right gestures.

.106-123: Prince John's equivocation is unsettling here. How do you feel about his assertion that "God, and not we, hath safely fought to-day"? Isn't equivocation more appropriate for the Fiend than for God? (Throughout the Henriad, note the tendency of Henry IV and his sons to invoke God. In part, they're sincere, but they may be more concerned with Success than with God.)

 

4.3

.1-82: Falstaff must retain something of his reputation as the killer of Hotspur. The Lord Chief Justice may allude to that reputation earlier, and Coleville sees no disgrace in yielding to Falstaff. Prince John, however, is notably unimpressed with Falstaff. This may show that John sees Falstaff's reality beneath his reputation (a false one) as a valiant rebel-queller. On the other hand, we may think better of Falstaff because John dislikes him.

.83-119: Falstaff's enconium to "good sherris-sack"--a very important soliloquy (or monolog to audience). Does Falstaff know Prince John as well as--or better than--John knows Falstaff? Might Falstaff have something to teach the naturally cold-blooded offspring of Bolingbroke? Should The Education of a Christian Prince include the "humane principle" of sack drinking? Was it a good thing that fat old Falstaff got thin young Hal to do a little drinking?

Consider Ornstein's note on p. 160 of Kingdom: "The thematic antithesis of thinness and fatness is much more complex in Part II than in Part I, where it defined the difference in temper of Hal and Falstaff. In Part II, thinness and fatness, associated also with coldness and heat, allude not only to human temperaments, but also to rigor in law, the thin edge of justice, to hardness and mercy, fertility and sterility."

 

4.4

.1-10: Note that Henry IV still wants to go on that Crusade (a repeated, if not constant, idea with him since the end of Richard II). Once again, though, this "pious" endeavor--by the standards of his time and Shakespeare's--is obstructed by rebellion.

.19-78: Note well the King and Warwick on Hal. Henry IV sees Hal as (1) "the noble image of [his] youth"; (2) gracious, pitiful, and loving--but with a dangerous temper; (3) just possibly, "subject . . . to weeds"--apparently the "weeds" of "riot," "rage," and "hot blood," combined with "lavish manners." Warwick takes "weeds" in its more usual sense in the Histories: bad companions; and he concludes (almost entirely correctly) that Hal just "studies his companions."

Also note Warwick's speech for disposing of the old idea that "The Elizabethans" had no concept of obscenity in language. Shakespeare assumed his audience would accept such a concept.

 

4.5: As Pelican and Riverside eds. note, not really a new scene.

.20-46: This is one of the few occasions on which Hal calls Henry IV "father." Note Hal's talk of what is due. There's nothing wrong with that, but we might expect Hal to show "nature, love and filial tenderness" more than talk about them as some sort of debt. Note very well that Hal is not finicky in claiming the crown: his father's usurpation doesn't bother him now, and it won't bother him until just before the Battle of Agincourt in Henry V.

.88-137: Here Henry IV can talk of a "stolen" crown. Note also that Henry IV really lets go at Hal; cf. his harangue in his interview with Hal before Shrewsbury in 1H4. In the earlier interview, it's quite possible that Henry IV's rage is at least partly calculated: part of a shrewd incitement of the Prince of Wales to perform heroically against the rebels in the up-coming struggle. Here, Henry IV's anger seems pretty genuine. Still, has he forgotten how Hal saved him at Shrewsbury? Is Henry IV here inciting Hal to greatness as King Henry V? (Again, Henry IV is a complicated character; his anger may be both calculated and genuine; his motivation is probably complex.)

.138-76: Hal finally tells Henry IV about his reformation scheme in a speech we might summarize (cynically) as "Get it, Dad? It's the ol' Prodigal Son bit. The people will eat it up." Note what Hal says he said when he took the crown. How good is Hal's memory? Does he say he said what we heard him say? Would this little story be appropriate in the mouth of "a true inheritor" of Henry IV? (The speech might be a small, but very important, bit of "public relations," with the "public" here being just Henry IV).

.177-79: We might paraphrase Henry IV's response to Hal's excuse as "That's my boy! The kid's got sanctimony down pat." Does he believe what Hal says? Is he impressed with Hal's rhetorical abilities? Is he impressed that Hal can lie so well? (If the last is true, how might the actor playing Henry IV point this for the audience? If the last is true, what should we make of Henry IV's giving God credit for the whole business?)

.179-219: Here Henry IV almost brings himself to admit fully how he became king: "God knows, my son, / By what bypaths and indirect crooked ways I met this crown . . ."--almost, but not quite; "he can't say "stole" when talking about how he got the crown. Note Henry IV's ideas on how to handle "friends" and on why one goes on a crusade. Consider the possibility that Henry really does feel guilty about stealing the crown, but can't quite admit that guilt even to his own son or, possibly, to himself. It is also possible that Henry would be ashamed to admit to Hal that he had a non-political reason for wanting to go on the Crusade. (In their need for political motives, Henry and Hal may be quite similar; see Hal's soliloquy, "I know you all," at the end of the second scene of 1 Henry IV.)

Note for Henry V Henry's advice to Hal to "busy giddy mind / With foreign quarrels"; in Henry V Hal leads a secular crusade against the French, and we'll want to know his motivation(s).

Note yet again Hal's very straight-forward view of his right to the crown: "You won it, wore it, kept it, gave it me. / Then plain and right must my possession be . . . ."

 

5.l: Shakespeare might want a scene here to allow additional time for costume changes for the Cornonation. Still, it was not Shakespeare's custom to waste scenes if he could avoid doing so, and this scene is important. Davy and Justice Shallow help prepare us for the Rejection of Falstaff. Consider: Davy is a knave, and Justice Shallow is an old fool. On the basis of friendship and his employer's loyalty, Davy corrupts justice. We and Falstaff laugh at Shallow for his allowing Davy to manipulate him. What would we think of Henry V if he kept Falstaff around to manipulate the King's justice? Is Davy/Shallow = Falstaff/Henry V?

 

5.2: Note Henry V on garments and his adopting the Lord Chief Justice as "a father to my youth." In becoming Henry V, Hal has put on the "garment" of kingship, as we shall see at the Coronation, where he's costumed as the King. (Contrast the idea of kingship as a [mere] garment with the "divine right" theories of Prince John in 4.2, and with those of Richard II in Shakespeare's Richard II [and, a bit after Henry V, the divine kingship theory of King Claudius, the usurper of the Danish throne in Hamlet].) Note also that Henry V will wear sorrow, but deeply, in his heart.

The adoption of the Lord Chief Justice as a "father" for Henry V prepares us for the Rejection: the Lord Chief Justice and Falstaff are opposed characters, and Hal chooses the Lord Chief Justice; Falstaff has got to go. (Remember this adoption of a father for Henry V, where Henry ultimately adopts as his father the King of France.)

Note very well Henry V's lines, "My father has gone wild into his grave, / For in his tomb lie my affections [=wayward propensities] / And with his spirit sadly I survive . . . ." Two important ideas here: (1) "The King is dead! Long live the King!"--the idea that the king's Body Politic never dies but is passed on to each successor. (2) The ancient pattern of the restoration of a Wasteland through the death of a (sick) old king and the asumption of power by a new, young, virile, vigorous king. In the archetypal pattern, the old kind dies (or is killed), and the sickness of the kingdom goes with him into his grave. The new king's health and vigor restore fertility to the Wasteland. (The king is magic; his virility is necessary to keep the land fertile [recently reformulated as, "The king is the land, and the land in the king."]) In one form of this pattern--in its fictional uses, if not in historical fact--the old king is killed. He was, of course, resurrected in the person of the new king, but his death was still a regicide, plus a deicide if the king was also a god. What do you do with the left-over sin, if you don't want a plague or other punishment for a regicide/deicide? Well, you need a scapegoat, some Outsider upon whom to place the residual sin and then drive out. The Outsider here is one form of the alazon: here, one who interrupts the sacred ceremony and demands more than he deserves.

 

5.3: Note well Falstaff's lines, beginning "I know the young king is sick for me" (my emphasis).

 

5.5

.5-40: Note Falstaff's concern with his clothes (cf. his first appearance in the play). Note also the touch of calculation in Falstaff's concern with how he looks. This is funny, and it slightly undermines Falstaff; still, it's also rather touching.

.41-72: The Rejection of Falstaff. Falstaff, indeed, interrupts the ceremony, and he has made it clear that he intends to demand far more than he deserves. He's always been something of an alazon, given his descent (though far more distant descent than Pistol's) from the Braggart Soldier, but here Falstaff just walks right into the alazon's role.

The ironies of the Rejection are great. Falstaff, the consummate actor, has started to live a part, a part that gets him Rejected. Falstaff, the great intellect and the one serious philosopher in the Second Tetralogy, acts here (in large part) because of his love for Hal--and his actions are going to lose him Hal. More: Shakespeare has carefully prepared us for the Rejection. He's made Falstaff less funny in 2 Henry IV than he was in 1 Henry IV, and more evil. He's set up the situations so that the Rejection is inevitable. Still, "I know thee not, old man"! It's so cold and priggish, and it echoes the Apostle's denial of Christ. The upshot of everything Henry V says is Right, but the tone is chilling.

Has Shakespeare erred here? Did he make Falstaff too attractive? Has he introduced too great a reformation in Hal for us to accept? Maybe, but along with Ornstein, I think that Henry V is still the Hal of his soliloquy in 1 Henry IV (I.2.183 f.). He knew them all; he never said he loved any of them.

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Prince Hal and Sir John Falstaff in 1 and 2 Henry IV

 

 

We may take it as a general (if flexible) rule that the first scene of a Shakespearean play defines the primary "space" of the play, and introduces its inhabitants, while the second and third scenes present elaborations and/or alternatives. E.g., in A Midsummer Night's Dream, the action starts in the upperclass world of Duke Theseus's palace in Athens (1.1), then moves to the lower-middleclass world of the "mechanicals" of Athens--and then moves to the fantasy world of the fairy-haunted forest near Athens (1.3). In Hamlet, we start on the battlements with talk of ghosts irrupting into the human world (1.1), and then move into the more strictly human world of politics and family matters; even so, with Macbeth we start with witches (1.1), move to the world of the manly arts of politics and war (1.2), and then see witches meeting men, and noble warriors to boot (1.3).

Even so, 1 Henry IV starts in the court of King Henry IV (1.1), moves to some unlocalized location--but the Tavern World, wherever set--where we first me Hal and Sir John Falstaff (1.2), and then returns to the royal court for an argument between Henry IV and his former allies, the Percies (1.3). We are being set up to compare and contrast two worlds and three sets of characters, or, more exactly, to watch the dynamics of their interacting. We have the court world of Henry IV and the loyalists to his Lancastrian cause, and his opponents in the Percies, most notably Henry Percy, nicknamed Hotspur. So there's the world of manly politics divided into two sides: those loyal to the throne and the now royal House of Lancaster, and those opposed, led by the Percies, with Hotspur as military leader. And there's the world around Falstaff: a world of pleasure and wit and relative equality, or, at least, the possibilty of a meritocracy of wit.

The main action in 1 Henry IV is the working out on the royal level of the theme, "Thieves fall out." Less figurtatively, we see the working out of Richard II's prediction in Richard II, the play before 1 Henry IV in the Second Tetralogy of History Plays. The Percies had helped Henry Bolingbroke steal Richard II's crown and become Henry IV; Richard predicted that the logic of such usurpation carried with it the inevitability that Henry wouldn't trust the Percies and that the Percies would always suspect Henry of not trusting them. Henry would think the Percies would steal his crown, and the Percies would think Henry would think that, and so would act to protect themselves: basically, the lack of trust would make them all untrustworthy, for a "self-fulfilling prophecy." In 2 Henry IV, Henry IV implies that he goaded the Percies into rebelling so he could neutralize them but Henry may misremember or overstate or oversimplify then; in 1 Henry IV we just don't know why started the argument, but we see the thieves arguing over the spoils.

Sir John Falstaff is only genteel in birth, not noble or royal, but he, too, knows a thing or two about theft. Not playing the political game, and being a professional liar and con-artist, Falstaff speak some truths his betters can't allow themselves to even think. And speak them he does, making Falstaff very funny, very subversive, and an excellent teach for Prince Hal.

1 Henry IV deals with two unsuccessful attempts at theft: on the noble and royal level, the Percies and their allies attempt to steal England from Henry (who stole it from Richard II) and divide it up; figuratively put, they try to steal a crown. On a lower social level, Falstaff et al. steal the King's crowns (i.e., coins) and try to divide them up, but have the crowns stolen from them by Prince Hal and Poins. The Percies are defeated at the Battle of Shrewsbury, and Hotspur dies nobly; Falstaff and accessories are defeated at the double robbery at Gad's Hill, and slightly humiliated thereafter. And at the Battle of Shrewsbury, Falstaff wisely appears to die and then resurrects himself.

In 1 Henry IV, Hal and Falstaff are drinking buddies. When Hal thinks Falstaff dead, he calls him "old acquaintance." Falstaff wishes to use Hal when Hal is king, but he probably (after his fashion) loves Hal. Hal is the son of Henry IV; Hal is an exemplary politician and ruler in training; and Hal is the an a "true prince." Hal will rule people; he's not much into loving them. Nor does he indicate to Falstaff any true love. (I am quite serious in my use of "drinking buddy"; a drinking buddy is not necessarily a friend.)

The action of 2 Henry IV is the mopping up of the rebellion, and the big "battle" here is the "battle" at Gaultree Forest. Prince Hal and the loyalists won at Shrewsbury in 1 Henry IV through chivalric combat; Prince John of Lancaster--the bearer of the family name and purest of the breed--wins at Gaultree through craft and equivocation. The movement of 2 Henry IV isn't toward a battle but toward the death of Henry IV, the coronation of Hal as King Henry V, the culmination of the relationship between Hal and Falstaff--and a hint (significantly from Prince John of Lancaster) of the military action to come in Henry V.

For the climax of 2 Henry IV, Hal banishes Falstaff, and, as things turn out in Henry V breaks the old scoundrel's heart. (Shakespeare's cyncics sometimes have sentimental streaks.)

The action of 2 Henry IV moves toward decreasing the dramatic "space" of Falstaff and the world he embodies. In Henry V that would will be limited in a sense to the small space even fat Falstaf will take in a grave. One question of the Henry plays is what we should make of that change.

In one sense, it seems inevitable: as inevitable that the politically modern Lancastrians will defeat the feudal Percies and the remaining rebels under the Archbishop of York at Gaultree; as inevitable that the macho English will defeat the more "feminine" French in Henry V; as inevitable a "progress" into an always-modern world. OK, but we have a God-like view in watching a drama, and I'm going to ask again what we should make of that change--How should we judge it?

For a number of reasons, Falstaff is ripe for rejection in 2 Henry IV, and Hal should reject him. But what of the way Hal handles the Rejection? If the judging of people and the rejection of the unworthy is necessary in a king, what should we make of kingship? If true friendship is impossible for a king because he has no equals with whom he can truly be friends, what then should we make of kingship? If the central tenet of Christianity is "Love!" and a king may not love anyone except, possibly, a queen he absorbs into his legal person, what then should we make of "Christian king"? Is it an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms?

Watch Falstaff very well; he's one of Shakespeare's greatest characters.

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